The proletariat (from Latin proletarius) is a term used to describe the class of wage-earners (especially industrial workers), in a capitalist society, whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power (their ability to work); a member of such a class is a proletarian.
Usage in Marxist theory[edit | edit source]
The term proletariat is used in Marxist theory to name the social class that does not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labour power for a wage or salary. Proletarians are wage-workers, while some refer to those who receive salaries as the salariat. For Marx, however, wage labor may involve getting a salary rather than a wageper se. Marxism sees the proletariat and bourgeoisie (capitalist class) as occupying conflicting positions, since workers automatically wish their wages to be as high as possible, while owners and their proxies wish for wages (costs) to be as low as possible.
In Marxist theory, the borders between the proletariat and some layers of the petite bourgeoisie, who rely primarily but not exclusively on self-employment at an income no different from an ordinary wage or below it – and the lumpen proletariat, who are not in legal employment – are not necessarily well defined. Intermediate positions are possible, where some wage-labour for an employer combines with self-employment. While the class to which each individual person belongs is often hard to determine, from the standpoint of society as a whole, taken in its movement (i.e. history), the class divisions are incontestable; the easiest proof of their existence is the class struggle – strikes, for instance. While an employee may be subjectively unsure of his class belonging, when his workmates come out on strike he is objectively forced to follow one class (his workmates, i.e. the proletariat) over the other (management, i.e. the bourgeoisie). Marx makes a clear distinction between proletariat as salaried workers, which he sees as a progressive class, and Lumpenproletariat, "rag-proletariat", the poorest and outcasts of the society, such as beggars, tricksters, entertainers, buskers, criminals and prostitutes, which he considers a retrograde class. Socialist parties have often struggled over the question of whether they should seek to organize and represent all the lower classes, or just the wage-earning proletariat.
According to Marxism, capitalism is a system based on the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. This exploitation takes place as follows: the workers, who own no means of production of their own, must use the means of production that are property of others in order to produce, and, consequently, earn their living. Instead of hiring those means of production, they themselves get hired by capitalists and work for them, producing goods or services. These goods or services become the property of the capitalist, who sells them at the market.
One part of the wealth produced is used to pay the workers' wages (variable costs), another part to renew the means of production (constant costs) while the third part, surplus value is split between the capitalist's private takings (profit), and the money used to pay rents, taxes, interests, etc. Surplus value is the difference between the wealth that the proletariat produces through its work, and the wealth it consumes to survive and to provide labor to the capitalist companies. A part of the surplus value is used to renew or increase the means of production, either in quantity or quality (i.e., it is turned into capital), and is called capitalised surplus value. What remains is consumed by the capitalist class.
The commodities that proletarians produce and capitalists sell are valued for the amount of labor embodied in them. The same goes for the workers' labor power itself: it is valued, not for the amount of wealth it produces, but for the amount of labor necessary to produce and reproduce it. Thus the capitalists earn wealth from the labor of their employees, not as a function of their personal contribution to the productive process, which may even be null, but as a function of the juridical relation of property to the means of production. Marxists argue that new wealth is created through labor applied to natural resources.
Marx argued that it was the goal of the proletariat to displace the capitalist system with the dictatorship of the proletariat, abolishing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a communist society in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all".
Relationship to the technotariat[edit | edit source]
Antagonism[edit | edit source]
The technotariat is the means of production as a class of automata, both hardware and software, which displace the traditional productive roles of the proletariat. In a sufficiently progressed capitalist society, the bourgeoisie's search from a method of extracting maximum profit yields the creation of the technotariat, which signals the arrival of the economic event horizon. However, this proves to be a gradual process, and the transistion from an agrarian society to a post-industrial society is marked by reactionary attitudes towards automation, which initially works to free capitalists from having to pay workers while increasing profits for the bourgeoisie.
Those who raise these concerns in a pre-technostist society are the Luddites, who erroneously claim that increasing physical automation will unemploy proletarians in what is known as the Luddite Fallacy. The Luddites were 19th-century English textile workers (or self-employed weavers who feared the end of their trade) who protested against newly developed labour-economizing technologies, primarily between 1811 and 1816. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. The term Luddite fallacy is used by economists in reference to the fear that technological unemployment inevitably generates structural unemployment (and is consequently macroeconomically injurious). If a technological innovation results in a reduction of necessary labour inputs in a given sector, then the industry-wide cost of production falls, which lowers the competitive price and increases the equilibrium supply point which, theoretically, will require an increase in aggregate labour inputs.
Eventually, however, the progress made towards automation leads to the event horizon, and the original Luddites' fears are realized. According to technostist ideals, the proper way forward is to profit from the technotariat's labor via the creation of a networking class. However, the bourgeoisie may resist technostist developments, choosing to consolidate power. This results in the proletariat acting out against both the bourgeoisie and the technotariat. The resulting society depends on who survives the maelstrom.
Relationship to the networking class[edit | edit source]
The networking class is the social class who profits from the labour of the technotariat. Initially, the technotariat will be beyond the reach of proletarians due to the price of constructing, programming, and maintaining the technology. However, as the event horizon is approached, prices will fall, and technotarians become purchasable by proletarians in increasing degrees. Those who manage to obtain ownership over technotarians thus become networkers engaged in the new economy, and thus become much like that of the bourgeoisie.
Bourgeois who switch over to using a purely technotarian workforce also become networkers.